President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed concern about the rising number of Covid-19 infections and warned against going back into a stringent lockdown.
The president, who addressed the nation on Wednesday evening, railed against large parties and bar events, which he called “super-spreaders”, especially as the country is heading towards the festive season.
Ramaphosa said he was “alarmed” at what he has seen on social media, with pictures of people holding big parties, including at taverns and bars, and “behaving like the virus does not exist”.
“These are super-spreader events that must be avoided. Now that we are in summer, it is easier to meet outdoors or with windows open so we can allow ventilation,” Ramaphosa said.
“After grave uncertainty, we all wish to return to our lives. As I speak to you this evening, the coronavirus pandemic is worsening around the globe.”
He added that more than 51-million people had been infected globally, and that 1.2-million people had died.
“Covid-19 is far from over … It will remain with us for some to come,” Ramaphosa said.
Flattening the curve
The president praised the country for reducing new daily infections from 12 000 during the peak month of July.
“For more than two months, the rate of infection has remained stable at less than 2 000 new infections a day. The number of hospitalisations has also declined for the 14 straight weeks.
“We owe this to the frontline workers … who have gone out to communities to serve our people. For more than two months now, the virus has steadily declined,” Ramaphosa enthused.
“This pandemic has so far taken a great toll on the health and wellbeing of our people,” he said, adding that the country had recorded more than 742 000 infections with a more than 90% recovery rate.
“While we have a relatively lower fatality rate than most countries, we cannot begin to count the blow this has cost to families. Although our infections have stabilised, many people are still getting infected. We have also seen how health systems have taken strain.
“If we are to prevent a resurgence of infections, there are few areas that we need to pay attention to,” Ramaphosa contended.
Manufacturing a vaccine
The president recognised the country’s manufacturing capability in relation to the vaccine trials that are looking positive.
He said that one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, Johnson & Johnson, has entered into a preliminary agreement with a local company, Aspen Pharmacare, to manufacture and package its candidate vaccine.
Aspen has the capacity to manufacture 300-million doses of the candidate vaccine at its Nelson Mandela Bay plant. This is in addition to the progress made by Biovac, a local biopharmaceutical company that is in partnership with the South African government.
Biovac is in advanced discussions with an international vaccine manufacturer that would also enable it to locally manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine to ensure sufficient supply for our country and the continent.
Ramaphosa also mentioned that the country was collaborating with several multinational pharmaceutical companies to obtain a safe and effective vaccine for our people, and is contributing towards the availability of the vaccine in the rest of the continent.
“We are working through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to acquire and fund a vaccine for the African continent. It is estimated that Africa will need about $12-billion and 750-million doses of an effective vaccine.
“Earlier this week, in my capacity as a chairperson of the African Union, I established the Covid-19 African vaccine acquisition task team to lead this effort. Our minister of health will serve on this task team, together with other outstanding citizens of our continent,” he said.
South Africa has also been appointed as a co-chair of the global ACT-A initiative that is facilitating access to innovative interventions — including vaccines — for all countries.
Countries are going to have to allocate funding so that there can be access to vaccines to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
However, the virus is still a major concern for the near future, with some of the hotspots in Eastern Cape, which has had an increase of 50% in new infections over the past week.
Spikes in new cases, Ramaphosa said, were occurring in Nelson Mandela Bay and Sarah Baartman municipalities.
“The evidence suggests that the infections in the Eastern Cape could have been triggered by schools and massive gatherings. Nelson Mandela Bay metro has seen the sharpest increases.
“What we are witnessing in the Eastern Cape should be a wake-up call to all of us that we cannot be complacent,” he warned.
Ramaphosa also announced the extension of the national state of disaster for another month, to December 15.
The president said that the country is now moving from implementing recovery measures to focusing on the economic recovery.
Ramaphosa said that the government would “steadily wind down” some of the restrictive measures.
“The relief package has laid the foundation for a robust economic recovery, limiting job losses and keeping afloat many businesses that would otherwise have been forced to close,” said Ramaphosa.
He emphasised that the special Covid-19 grants have been extended for three months, until January 2021. These grants will help to sustain about six million people who are unemployed.
Ramaphosa said the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s Covid-19 temporary employer/employee relief scheme (Ters) will be extended by another month, and that applications will close on 15 October. He said that this relief measure had already paid out R53-billion and has covered more than 4.7-million workers across the country.
Ramaphosa said that now it is the time for the country to transition to a new phase, adding that the only way forward is “rapid and sustained economic growth”. As such, all sectors are expected to return to full capacity as soon as possible.
The president added that the government is amending the alert level one regulations to restore the normal trading hours for the sale of alcohol at retail outlets.
He said that the government is also opening up all international travel to all countries, subject to the necessary health protocols and the presentation of a negative Covid-19 certificate.
“By using rapid tests and strict monitoring, we intend to limit the spread of the infection through importation,” Ramaphosa said, adding that these measures “would assist the tourism and hospitality sectors”, which have been badly hit by the pandemic.
Watch the president’s address again: